Many of us were taught about the “Voyage of the Damned” in history classes. If you’re unfamiliar, the name refers to the voyage of the MS St. Louis, a German ocean liner that carried Jewish refugees from Europe to the West to escape persecution at the hands of the Nazi party. The refugees sought asylum in Cuba, Canada and the United States. The ship were met at the coast of Florida by the US Coast Guard, who turned them away. Canada and Cuba acted similarly. Having nowhere else to go, the ship was forced to return to Europe. Some refugees were able to find safety in different parts of Europe. Many were not. Many who were forced to return back to their homeland died in the Holocaust.
Most of us would agree that this isn’t our country’s proudest moment. But hey, we had met our yearly immigration quotas and if they had waited their turn, the system would have worked and they would have been accepted eventually. The ones who survived that long would have, at least.
If you feel like you might have heard this kind of language before, it’s because a similar situation is happening with a caravan refugees from Central America seeking asylum in the United States from violent situations in their homelands. And already we’ve got plans to meet them at the border with a wall of soldiers.
This is the part where someone would usually say that “if you don’t learn from history, you’re doomed to repeat it,” but that isn’t exactly the situation here. The parallels are pretty clear, and one could reasonably predict that if we meet the refugees with the same level of cold hostility that the MS St. Louis was, we might get the same result. This isn’t about learning from mistakes. It’s about a disturbing apathy that has stopped those in charge from trying for a different outcome then the one we got last time. We know how this is going to turn out, so why aren’t we doing anything differently?
If you’re not a fan of the direction this is headed, make sure you don’t keep it to yourself. Call your senator and let them know that you’d rather not see history repeat itself. Let them know that the Refugee Act was put into place specifically to help people in this kind of situation, and to meet a group of people fleeing a horrible situation with guns while framing them as invaders is, quite frankly, unacceptable. Both the president and the attorney general can raise the cap for the number of refugees that are taken in if they so choose. But if the general attitude is that the caravan should “turn back,” that isn’t likely to happen.
If nothing else, you can help these people by letting them know that there are many of us here who are welcoming them and are sympathetic to their plight. That’s more important than it seems, because it’s real easy to lose hope when you’re in a situation like that. One of the few Jewish refugees aboard the St. Louis who was granted asylum in the West was only accepted so after he was taken to a hospital following his suicide attempt. This was at a point when Cuba had decided that, of the 900 or so people on board, less than 30 were granted asylum. It was clear that he wasn’t welcome, and that there was little interest in offering him a way to escape.
That’s the same message we’re sending the refugees from Central America. Not only is it immoral, it’s un-American. There’s a poem engraved on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty that includes the lines
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning
to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
If you see a group of tired, broken and scared people as an invasion, it’s time to stop pretending that your concerns are rooted in American values.
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